The Warriors will have their
hands full against Houston,
which, like Hawaii, can run
wild on offense
WAIKIKI WAS BIG ENOUGH for two college football teams the past few days. There was a distinct lack of trash talk and stink eye and other pre-bowl nastiness as Hawaii and Houston seemingly both played possum and tourist.
The Warriors even let the Cougars use their weight room.
Holiday goodwill? Aloha spirit? Good old sandbagging?
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UH-UH ... what we have here is a case of mutual self respect. Today's opponents in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl seem to see themselves in each other, and they like what they see.
Of course, that all ends with today's 3 p.m. kickoff at Aloha Stadium, when the Warriors (8-5) try to end a topsy-turvy season with a win, and the Cougars (7-5) attempt to prove to the college football world that they deserve to be in a bowl game.
"We can see how much pride they have in what they did this year," Hawaii linebacker Keani Alapa said of the Cougars. "We know how they feel about their coach. We feel the same about Coach Jones and what he did."
Kickoff: 3 p.m. today
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM, with Bobby Curran, Robert Kekaula and John Veneri
Television: ESPN, with Dave Barnett doing the play-by-play, Bill Curry as color analyst and Heather Cox on the sidelines
Gates open: Parking lot at 11 a.m., turnstile at noon
Payoff: Hawaii and Houston will earn at least $750,000 apiece, most of which goes to each school's conference
Houston coach Art Briles led his team to a bowl berth in his first season after years of futility, as Jones did in 1999 when he took over a team that went 0-12 the year before. Two years ago Houston went 0-11.
"We're just very proud and very honored to be here, while understanding that we have a job to do," Briles said.
Jones admits a soft spot for Houston, the city where he coached two pro teams and the school where his team works out when it visits to play Rice.
"I have some aloha for the University of Houston because I have so many connections there," Jones said. "They play the game very, very hard like our guys do. It's fun to turn on the film and see a bunch of guys having fun and playing hard for each other. They're a lot like us in that manner."
Jones' definition of fun is lots and lots of passing and lots of scoring. Both teams' offenses are among the nation's most prolific when they're going right. But both have bogged down at times, too; the Cougars scored three points against Michigan and 10 against Southern Miss, and the Warriors struggled for 16 at Tulsa, 13 at San Jose State and 14 at Nevada.
But Hawaii averaged 41 points in going 6-1 at home this season. The venue is the reason the Warriors are a 10-point favorite.
Team stability certainly isn't, as anywhere from two to six Hawaii starters either won't play or will see limited action because of various reasons.
Only one is out for sure, but he's a biggie: senior defensive end Travis LaBoy, the Western Athletic Conference defensive player of the year. LaBoy didn't make it academically.
Alapa said the Warriors can win without their most spectacular defensive player.
"You look at Mel Purcell. He made WAC player of the week, and he's a backup. We have a lot of depth. This is a great opportunity for the backups," he said.
Star receiver Chad Owens is hurting from head to toe; he's got the flu, and a sore foot that's been bothering him for a month.
"I'll try to play through it. I'll just play through injuries. It's one last game and I'll have plenty of time to heal," Owens said. "I'm just gonna go out there one last time for my seniors. Try to play hard for them."
A third All-WAC first-teamer, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, will likely play but not start, also due to the flu. Capable Lui Fuga is his replacement. Punter Kurt Milne and wideout Jason Rivers are also flu victims, but should be OK.
Quarterbacks Tim Chang and Jason Whieldon are healthy, but only one can start. Jones is keeping his selection secret. Senior Whieldon came in for junior Chang to help beat Alabama, but was relieved by Chang in the season-ending loss to Boise State. The logical choice would seem to be Chang, since Jones has no plans to discontinue the school's career-passing yardage leader's Heisman Trophy campaign next year. Either way, both will play today.
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Ones to watch
AN INTERESTING aspect of football is that any player on the field can make a big, game-turning play at any time. Of course, some are more likely to do so than others. Then there are the grinders who contribute to victory with consistency, doing their job right play after play, winning their man-to-man confrontation all day long. These six are just a few of the players who were among the Houston Cougars' and Hawaii Warriors' most consistent and explosive performers all season. Keep an eye on them.
HAWAII / 51
Undersized, but has great instincts and flew around field for team-high 110 tackles in first year as starter at outside LB. Big games included Alabama (15 tackles), Tulsa (14) UTEP (13), Fresno State (12), and Louisiana Tech (11). Also had four sacks and five hurries.
HOUSTON / 6
All-C-USA third-teamer rushed for 1,083 yards and eight TDs. Had four 100-yard-plus rushing games to end season, with more yards each game, finishing with career-high 165-yard, three-touchdown effort against UAB, earning C-USA offensive player of the week.
HAWAII / 8
Mr. Efficiency owns stellar QB rating of 143.12. Led Hawaii to 37-29 win over Alabama coming off bench on Nov. 29. Completed 22 consecutive passes against Army and Alabama. Coach June Jones said Whieldon will play -- and maybe start -- today.
HOUSTON / 90
Cougars' top DL was in on 83 tackles this season, including 51 solos. Led team with six sacks among 15 tackles for loss. Was named C-USA defensive player of the week after he helped beat Army with three TFLs and two sacks. Made second-team All-C-USA.
HAWAII / 2
"Mighty Mouse" named All-WAC after finishing second nationally in receptions per game (7.73) and sixth in yards (103.1) despite playing last three games with painful foot injury. Shares team lead with nine TD catches. Exciting return man takes punts in key situations.
HOUSTON / 76
All-C-USA first-teamer anchors huge offensive line, Started all 12 games. Has speed and agility to pull on traps and counters, and also has excellent balance for pass blocking.
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Q & A
How does UH match up with UH?
Here ARE SOME QUESTIONS and answers about today's Sheraton Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium:
Question: Will Hawaii's defense make a major adjustment today to try to stop Houston's high-powered offense?
Answer: The Warriors practiced their nickel defense a lot in preparation for this game, meaning backup safety Leonard Peters will likely start instead of middle linebacker Chad Kalilimoku.
While that is a good strategy against the pass, the Warriors must still be wary of 1,000-yard rusher Anthony Evans.
Hawaii is also concerned with the multitude of offensive sets Houston uses, a la Boise State.
* * *
Q: How did the teams do against mutual opponents?
A: Both beat Rice and both beat Army.
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Q: What does Houston coach Art Briles have to say about the respect theme that seems to follow the Cougars into this game?
A: "The only motivation we have is to try to get out and play as good as we can. We've been working all year on trying to earn a little respect," Briles said. "We have not had a lot of respect as a program, as a university, as a football team. That's the motivation. We just want people to hopefully see we're a pretty dargone good football team, and we'll take care of business."
* * *
Q: What is Travis LaBoy's side of the story about not showing up at practice or contacting coaches after finals ended last week?
A: Angela Curley, LaBoy's mother, said he was wary of any contact with the team after he knew he was ineligible, fearing NCAA sanctions against the team if he attended practice.
* * *
Q: What was the Japanese kanji writing on June Jones' shirt at yesterday's press conference?
A: It said "Hawaii Warriors."
"I'm wearing my shirt because I'm very proud that ESPN is taking this game to Japan," Jones said.
* * *
Q: What do the Warriors think about Boise State's win Tuesday over Texas Christian in the Fort Worth Bowl?
A: "We hate Boise State. But we're proud they represented the WAC well," Hawaii linebacker Keani Alapa said. "We're going to try to do the same."
* * *
Q: What do the Hawaii defenders think about Houston freshman QB Kevin Kolb?
A: "He's definitely a winner. We're really going to have to be on our game. They do a lot of things. He's a tough guy, a leader," Hawaii safety David Gilmore said. "He's a savvy guy. He sort of reminds me of the Tulsa guy (James Kilian). The way he gets outside. He's not real fast, but he always makes plays and getting first downs when he needs them. A big guy."
* * *
Q: How is Houston's offensive line?
A: "Their offensive line is as big as anyone we've seen," Warriors defensive line coach Vantz Singletary said. "They can certainly engulf you. They've knocked everyone off the ball I've seen on tape and I've watched every game tape. Probably one of the best goal-line teams in college football."
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Q: What does Houston think of Hawaii's offensive line?
A: "We know their offensive line is big and strong and their receivers and backs block well, too," Houston defensive end Joe Clay said. "It will be fun as a defensive line to get off the ball and get to the quarterback and make as many plays as possible."
* * *
Q: How many people are expected to attend the game?
A: Hawaii Bowl executive director Jim Donovan said yesterday that around 25,000 tickets had been distributed. This, however, does not mean that many will attend -- especially since the game is on ESPN live. Donovan is hoping for a strong turnout from the military; members of the armed forces, their family and retirees can get free tickets today with their military IDs.
Also, fans are urged to arrive early today because the nation's increased terrorism alert means there will be more bag searching and longer lines to get into the stadium.
Dave Reardon / Star-Bulletin
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* Passing statistics on Pages 2 and 7